So, I learned something this week. It’s always good to learn new things, right? Hopefully more than once/week. I learned that the word “transfiguration” doesn’t simply mean to transform. I had thought they were rather synonymous.
In reality, “transfigure” means to transform into something more elevated or beautiful. So, it’s transform with a positive kick. I’m sure that also comes with all sorts of nuance and layered meaning on what may be considered “more beautiful or elevated;” however, that’s the exact meaning of transfiguration.
I was looking this up, not just for random curiosity’s sake, but because today is what is known as Transfiguration Sunday in the life of the church. It is often recognized the Sunday before Lent starts as a transition from the season of Epiphany, where we see the manifestation of God in Jesus, to the season of Lent, where we reflect on the ways we can turn our lives more toward Christ’s teachings. (Maybe I should say transfigure our lives more toward Christ’s teachings.)
The Scripture today doesn’t specifically use the word “transfigure,” but the first half of our verses describe a scene where Jesus’ physical appearance changes so that he is in dazzling white and his face emanates light. It is a scene where he is transfigured.
Elijah and Moses, men whose life stories are cornerstones in the faith, are there, confirming that Jesus is the continuation of God’s interaction with the people.
Peter, James, and John, three of the disciples, are there as well. They witness this happening, and I love Peter’s reaction. “Let’s set up camp! We’ll stay here!” There’s lots of speculation on why Peter would suggest that, though, I could understand seeing something magnificent and thinking “let’s never leave this spot.” Kathryn Matthews suggest that this reaction perhaps comes out of an overwhelmed state of mind. (Sermon Seeds, ucc.org)
Y’know how it goes sometimes - you’re in a situation that feels chaotic and unexpected and, depending on your personality, you may just start blurting out suggestions and ideas. The Scripture even says “he did not know what he was saying.”
I assume Peter was simply astounded with what he saw and was a little worked up. God’s reaction? “Hey! Calm down! This is my Son - the one I’ve chosen - LISTEN TO HIM!” Lori Brandt Hale imagines a "cosmic hand" from heaven, "reaching down to give Peter a good 'you-are-missing-the point' slap upside the head" (Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol. 1).
The story continues to then describe the men going down the mountain and Jesus healing a boy who was plagued with a demon, causing him to convulse. The two parts of the selection may seem a bit disjointed, and I debated keeping the second half, but I believe we have two important lessons to learn here when reading them together.
The first lesson mainly comes from the scene on the mountaintop. Sometimes we need to just stop! Stop talking. Stop doing. Stop trying to analyze a situation. Instead, listen. Listen for God’s voice, listen to what Jesus says.
This isn’t all the time - but sometimes, when we are experiencing big moments in life, we simply need to listen and take it in. Recognize what the moment is and don’t try evaluating it. Those moments in life where you realize God’s presence is truly being made known, just listen.
Those of us who think that every situation requires us to do something, however well-intentioned our efforts, are called back to faithfulness, mindfulness, and perhaps simplicity by the voice of God in the story: "This is my Son, my chosen, listen to him!" (Matthews, ucc.org)
In listening, we hopefully begin to see. To see what God is doing in the world, in our lives, in the life of our congregation.
The second lesson is that we go through our own transfiguration when we learn to balance and integrate the light of the mountaintop with the demands of the plain. When Jesus heals the boy, he demonstrates what the mountaintop experience meant - that he was God’s Divine Son.
On the mountaintop, Jesus’ transfiguration is an example of him as the Light of the World - shining forth. It was a completely spiritual experience and a practice of simply being in the presence of God. Once on the plain, Jesus’ healing of the boy is a continuation of that Light.
We, too, need to continue the peak experiences in our lives with those in the mundane.
Barbara Brown Taylor often references “thin places,” which is also supported in Celtic theology. “Thin places” are those places where the veil between this world and the next are so thin that you can see through. It’s where you see the Divine in this world.
In imagining “thin places” I most often think of when a person is near death and they’ll often reference seeing family members who have already passed. It’s witnessing a person’s transition after life on earth.
But I also feel that we witness these thin places not just in birth or death. Do you know what all took place this week in the life of this congregation - I was witness to so much of God’s light peeking through in the everyday life of this congregation the past week. Simply from what I know about:
-one person was able to help another financially with a much needed car repair
a couple approached the church to ask with which projects they could help
-at the discussion at Pints, we had someone we didn’t know from the brewery join us & add an interesting number of comments
-while I was meeting with one person at Starbucks, another walked in for a different purpose, and they were able to connect on shared interests.
-in the wake of the vote from the Methodist church this week (not affirming LGBT ordination or marriage), since many of you were raised and formed by the UMC, you have been lamenting and supporting one another
-we learned Stephanie, our office admin, would be out of work for 4 weeks, and the troops rallied to get everything in place
-Stephanie was finally placed in the right surgeon’s hands, after almost 2 years of medical issues, and received much needed surgery
This is just in our little community. I see these as the thin places. I see these as the part of everyday life where God is at work. As Thomas Merton said, “We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time."
It’s bringing that mountaintop experience onto the plain, and seeing that they are not moments in life to keep separate. They go together. They overlap.
Matthews challenges us to ask: “As we prepare to embark on our Lenten journey, how do we read and hear this text as a call to take what we have experienced out into the world? How do we integrate our glimpses of God’s love, our tastes of God’s glory, into the everydayness of our lives?” (Matthews, ucc.org)
At Pints last week we discussed the notion of, during Lent, adding a practice to our lives instead of taking something away. Maybe this could be your practice during Lent: writing down each day where you saw the mountaintop and the plain overlap - and to pray how you can help others see that as well.
Scripture: Luke 9:28-43